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Marlene Johnson

Newspaper reporter and assistant editor Marlene L. Johnson was born on November 22, 1936 in Rochester, New York and raised by foster parents on a small farm in Avon. At age twelve, she was stricken with polio. Johnson attended Second Baptist Church in Mumford, N.Y. where Reverend Mordecai W. Johnson once was pastor. She graduated from Geneseo Central High School and then received her A.A. degree from the University of Buffalo. Johnson moved to Detroit, Michigan and earned her B.S. degree in secondary education and English from Wayne State University in 1973. She went on to earn her M.S. degree in media instructional systems from the University of the District of Columbia in 1983. In 2007, Johnson graduated from the Howard University School of Divinity with her M.A. degree in religious studies.

Johnson began her career in journalism as a general assignment reporter for the Associated Press in Detroit. She sued the Associated Press in 1973 on behalf of African Americans and women after being terminated without just cause. A court upheld her claims of discrimination and handed down a landmark decision. This ruling was the catalyst for the establishment of a formal training program for minority journalists at the Associated Press. In 1975, Johnson moved to Washington, D.C. to work for The Newspaper Guild. From 1976 to 1992 she was a public relations practitioner for nonprofit organizations including the National Urban League and the National 4-H Council.

Johnson served as the assistant editor of the “Features” and the “Arts & Entertainment” sections of the Washington Times from 1994 until 2004. She covered stories at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the National Gallery of the Arts, and the Warner Theater. In 2007, Johnson became the executive editor for the online newspapers owned by Redding Communications, Inc., which included the The Washington Continent and the Redding News Review. She left Redding Communications in April of 2008 to pursue personal writing projects. Johnson also has worked for the National Caucus and Center on Black Aged and the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. She is an active member in the National Association of Black Journalists and has supervised student reporters for the NABJ Monitor. In addition, Johnson founded Grapevine Communications, a media consulting firm in Washington, D.C.

Johnson received the Excellence of Lifestyle or Entertainment Pages Award from the Virginia Press Association in 1998; and the SPJ Washington Dateline Award for Excellence in local journalism in 2000.

Marlene L. Johnson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 2, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.066

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/2/2013

Last Name

Johnson

Maker Category
Schools

University of the District of Columbia

Howard University School of Divinity

Wayne State University

State University of New York at Buffalo

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Marlene

Birth City, State, Country

Rochester

HM ID

JOH42

Favorite Season

Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Jamaica

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

11/22/1936

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ice Cream

Short Description

Newspaper reporter and assistant editor Marlene Johnson (1936 - ) , former assistant editor at the the Washington Times and past executive editor at Redding Communications, Inc., filed and won a class-action discrimination lawsuit against the Associated Press in Detroit, Michigan that led to a training program for minority journalists.

Employment

Office of Congressman John Conyers

Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Wayne State University

Chrysler Corporation

Hughes Aircraft Corp.

Johnson Publishing Company

Grapevine Communications

Washington Times

Delete

Associated Press (AP)

Favorite Color

Lavender

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Marlene Johnson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Marlene Johnson lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Marlene Johnsons describes her mother's family background, pt.1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Marlene Johnson describes her mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Marlene Johnson talks about not knowing her father's identity, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Marlene Johnson talks about not knowing her father's identity, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Marlene Johnson describes her biggest childhood influence

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Marlene Johnson describes the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Marlene Johnson talks about her childhood community's church

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Marlene Johnson describes her school and high school education

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Marlene Johnson describes her experience in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Marlene Johnson describes her relationship with her foster siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Marlene Johnson talks about her love of reading

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Marlene Johnson talks about moving with the Cottoms' and George Wilson

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Marlene Johnson describes being separated from her foster siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Marlene Johnson talks about her favorite extracurricular activities and her first mentor

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Marlene Johnson describes her aptitude for basketball and her interest in French

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Marlene Johnson talks about the popular music, television, and movies of her youth

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Marlene Johnson talks about her high school graduation and her aspirations for her future

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Marlene Johnson describes her first jobs as a bean picker and babysitter

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Marlene Johnson recalls the harrowing experience of living with her father's brother and his wife in Buffalo

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Marlene Johnson describes pursuing an associate's degree and her first secretarial job

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Marlene Johnson talks about moving to Detroit and living with her biological mother

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Marlene Johnson describes her negative experience with racial discrimination at work

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Marlene Johnson describes her experience at Wayne State University and teaching at Miller High School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Marlene talks about her work experience at General Motors and the political turmoil during that time

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Marlene Johnson recalls her brief time in Los Angeles working for Hughes Aircraft and Ebony Magazine

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Marlene Johnson talks about her poetry and how it developed into a Grammy award winning song

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Marlene discusses her contact with local poets and her brief foray into songwriting

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Marlene Johnson describes how Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination personally impacted her work environment

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Marlene Johnson describes her work with Congressman John Conyers and being hired by the Associated Press

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Marlene Johnson describes working for the Associated Press, and the class action lawsuit that followed, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Marlene Johnson describes working for the Associated Press, and the class action lawsuit that followed, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Marlene Johnson describes her suit against the Associated Press

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Marlene Johnson describes her experience working at the Newspaper Guild in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Marlene Johnson describes her work in public relations in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Marlene Johnson talks about her role as the Assistant Editor for Features at the Washington Times

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Marlene Johnson talks about her job as Assistant Metro Editor for the Washington Times

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Marlene Johnson details the criticism she received from the managing editor of the Washington Times

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Marlene Johnson talks about her work as Assistant Metro Editor at the Washington Times

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Marlene Johnson talks about her decision to resign from the Washington Times

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Marlene Johnson talks about the dream she had about going to Divinity School

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Marlene Johnson describes her experience in Divinity School at Howard University

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Marlene Johnson describes her hopes and concerns for the African American Community

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Marlene Johnson describes how she incorporated her ministry into her journalism

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Marlene Johnson describes her work with the National Urban magazine after her retirement

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Marlene Johnson reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Marlene Johnson talks about the reasons for her limited role in the National Association of Black Journalists

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Marlene Johnson describes how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

10$5

DATitle
Marlene Johnson describes working for the Associated Press, and the class action lawsuit that followed, pt. 1
Marlene Johnson describes how she incorporated her ministry into her journalism
Transcript
So, this is in what year?$$I got hired in, I think '72' [1972].$$1972, okay.$$And what they said to me was that they had a one-year training program, and they were going to hire me under that. And so, that's what, that's what happened. But actually, they didn't really have a training program. What they did was, they showed me the different wires and you know, walked me around the room, and they sat me in front of the computer, and then they sent me out on the street. And I covered stories and I wrote stories. There was one guy who was on the desk who was always like reluctant to give me stuff. And anyway, somebody amongst them had a complaint that I wrote too slowly. So--$$You had no training whatsoever, right? Except for how to, how things functioned--$$Right.$$--I mean you still trying to develop...$$Right, no training, no training. And so, like nine months in, the boss decides that he's going to retire, and he's going to dump me. And I said oh, my gosh. And so, I was very upset. And so, a friend of mine--well, a co-worker... There was a guy who I'm still in touch with who is now the--I heard he's the managing editor at the Detroit News. His name is John Wolman. John came in during that period of time when I was there. John, his dad was a newspaper guy in Madison, Wisconsin, so John grew up with newspapers. And John taught me a whole lot. If it wasn't for John, I wouldn't have been able to really work at the AP, but John taught me a whole lot. And I would write, and if was doing it too long, he'd say, 'Get up off that copy.' (laughter). I love John. And so, I would get up off that copy. But it wasn't that it was poorly written, it was just I kept re-writing myself, and John knew it. So, anyway when that happened, he and another co-worker named Marty Hirschman came to me. And I was in the Guild, and they said, 'Well, do you want to file suit, if we can get other people to join you?' And I said sure. And so, that's what happened. They got eight other people. I was--and they were all black except one woman, Francis Leewine, I believe, a white woman. And the rest were black guys and maybe a black woman. And that's how the suit went forward, until it got to the class action part, until it got to the--what do you want to call it? It split to the civil suit, it got to the civil suit. And that's when they--this woman who was going after the money who was an attorney in New York, dumped my name off. The reason I knew that happened is because a woman that I was working with in the Guild named Louise Walsh, I ran into her, and we were on a plane together. And she said, 'You know what?' We had become friends. She said, 'I don't remember seeing your name on the suit anymore.' And I said, 'Well, why wouldn't it be on there?' And so, she told me who to call, and I called the guy, Sid Wrightsman, and I asked him. And he waffled and told me about the attorney in New York who was doing the other part of the suit, the civil part. And when I talked to her, she was really nasty. And she was going, 'You know, it takes a lot to be a named complainant on a suit.' I said, 'I've already been on there seven years.' 'Well, you decided you wanted not to be on it.' I said, 'No, I did not. Nobody asked me, you just took my name off.' 'Well, we got, we want to represent women.' And so what happened is, the suit turned from black and one white, to all white and one black. And the one black--the one that went to the civil suit. They took my name off and put another woman's name on it--a black woman who I had never heard of before. And that's how it went down. So, when the money came out--of course Simeon Booker wrote about it in the Jet for me. But they got like eleven or twelve grand, and I got fifteen hundred dollars.$Okay. When you look back on everything you've done professionally... Now, you're not--well, let me just... You were telling me earlier you're not a practicing minister.$$No.$$You mean you got a degree in theology, but the calling is not to necessarily preach--$$Not to preach, no.$$--but to get the information, I guess, or--$$Right. It was a calling in that it was a calling to a ministry. I often tell people that I'm like Moses. Moses didn't like to speak in public, so Aaron did it. I'm like Moses. I bring you the news, but somebody else may voice it. Everybody is not supposed to be a pastor, and I know that I'm not supposed to be. If the time comes when I'm supposed to be in a pulpit, I'll know it. But I am a person who is very shy of speaking to large groups of people, and I always have been. I think I told you I was in a senior play, but I was trembling, (laughter) with my little having to say. And a lot of, if you know it, a lot of people who are actors and actresses are shy people. And I'm a shy in a way. And when I tell people that, they say you can't be shy. Yes, I am, in a way. And that's the way in which I'm shy. And if you're a preacher, you've got to preach. And you perform, and you've got to get people to listen. And if you're standing up there and your voice is trembling, you're not going to get the word across. And one of the things I had said to myself a long time ago, Dr, King is my model for oratory. If I can't get there (laughter), I'm not preaching. And I'm serious about that. If you can't be effective in it, why do it? And I'm not effective in that. I'm a writer. I can be effective as a writer. And so, I do write for my church. I do write for other people, but I'm not effective as a speaker to large groups of people. So, I'm leaving that alone, yeah.$$Okay. So, did you consider doing any counseling or any other kind of--?$$Well, one of the things I thought of when I got the calling was counseling, because it seems like a lot of people come to me for advice. But then I came to understand that pastoral counseling is somewhat different. It's for real, and you counsel people who are in grief and all of that. My soul was too fragile for that, I think. So, I don't do counseling. I didn't want to go into that on that level. I took one course in pastoral counseling and it was interesting, but I knew it wasn't going to be a fit for me, yeah. So, if people want my advice, I'm willing to give it on an ad hoc basis, but not as a professional pastoral counselor.